"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Winter Submission Season

"So what are you doing with yourself nowadays?"

Do you dread that question as much as I do?

or...

“Whatever happened to your “book”?

I especially love that one as the room goes quiet and everyone turns to listen.

"It isn't a book!" I want to shout. "It's a manuscript!"

Two different animals, as an agent at the Columbus Writers Conference pointed out to me several years ago in a breakout session. “Your manuscript isn't a book,” she said, “until it has a Library of Congress ISBN number.”

That's an important distinction and one I've never forgotten.

But what I wanted to tell you is that I've just found a way to answer these innocent questions truthfully without sloaching into a corner. Thanks to a wonderful article by Cecilia Ward Jones, The Art of Perseverance, in the current issue Poets and Writers, I know now to proudly say, “I'm editing my novel. Yes, the one you read (insert appropriate number) __years ago.”

I must say, the weight of expectation shifted when I read the story of her writing experience, one so similar to my own. Not everyone goes to college right out of high school, making the seamless transistion to an MFA program and publication of their first novel before they're thirty. Most aren't even lucky enough to do it before they're forty. It's OK to have gotten married and had children first. It's OK to realize accidently that what you've really wanted to do all along was write. And it is especially OK to spend years editing a novel.

At the same time, however, it is not OK to cower in a room with the door closed, past the time when your manuscript is ready, mindlessly editing for the sake of editing, afraid to put yourself out there and move onto the next step, afraid to hit send. So how do we know when our manuscripts are ready? How do we make the distinction between jumping the gun and procrastinating our life away? I suspect that when you reach the point where you're only making minor changes, you're close, and when you’re satisfied that it's as good as you can get it, send out a round of queries,then immediately start a new writing project. I’m convinced it’s the only way to survive the inevitable rejections that will start pouring in, because they will.

I know. I've been there. I queried before I was ready and paid the price. Unable to make the distinction, I ignored the don't rush advice from those I should've listened to.

But I persevered. I survived a move, a broken computer and lost pages. I survived rejection and discovered the pleasure of editing. Cutting and polishing a manuscript is addictive. Reducing that word count instead of increasing it is highly addictive. As Andrea Cremer wisely advised, you have to take word count literally . . . make sure that every . . . word . . . counts.

And one day you and I will get “the call”. One day you won’t see the hated “however” in the first sentence of an agent’s reply. I’m convinced of that as well. For myself and for all of you who refuse to give up.

In the meantime I’ve rediscovered I can write short stories. Even Flash Fiction. I’ve dug out a few rough drafts from college. They don't pass the cringe test but they contain ideas. And that’s a start. An idea that becomes character, conflict, and resolution.

There are dozens of literary magazines and university presses out there calling for submission of poems and short stories. Some even pay you. Winter is the season to submit. There’s even a call for submission of one-sentence stories from Monkeybicycle. (Wrap your head around that one.) I gained confidence after having a short story accepted by Bloody Bridge Review for a February issue. (They’re a new online journal seeking submissions.) So while I’m editing my manuscript, I’m going to start submitting shorts like crazy. And poems. Like crazy! Tis the season.

One final note, don’t forget about Simon and Carolina's contest. Rules. Prizes. You have until the 31st (midnight tomorrow!!)to polish those thousand words and the prizes are tight. Don’t be square and miss out.

One final note as I say goodbye to January, I’ve noticed a lot of bloggers have been listing five things that make them happy. I like to be different.

I give you five things I wish I had, from the absurd to the just-out-of-reach.

A lemon tree
A parachute
A widow’s walk
An agent
A telescope

What are yours? And where are you submitting??

14 comments:

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Thank you for this. This is one of the best posts I've come across yet as a writer (and not just because you mention our contest, though thank you kindly for that). So encouraging, so...been there. The whole way I was nodding my head, thinking "Yes, yes! Story of my life." I suspect I'm not the only one. So yes, yes, thank you for this.

By the way, I no longer have a lemon tree, but when I did, I very much enjoyed it. If I had a lemon tree in Indiana, I could make a fortune. But, I do have a telescope. And it's magnificent.

Andrea Cremer said...

Wonderful post, Yvonne!

She Writes said...

Not submitting this year. Too crazy and patience is what I will be relying on!

an agent
a tiny old house downtown
plane tickets to travel
a good man ;), but if not, photo equipment then!
a guitar

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This was a great post, Yvonne. I love the "I'm editing" answer.
I wish I had:
An agent
A new house (we're trying to sell ours)
The ability to write full time
A new ipad
a pet monkey :-)

Yvonne said...

Carolina,
Thank you! Wow, what a nice compliment. Boy I bet you miss that tree. My sister just steps off her porch in Sacramento and casually snags one off the branch the way we pick a tomato in the summer.

Thanks again for the nice comment and I'm jealous of your telescope.


Andrea,
Thank you. And thank you for being a guiding inspiration to many of us. I know one day I'll be able to say, I knew her when . . .


She Writes,
I love your five things. It's so funny...that you could/would substitute the photo equip. for the good man if you had to. It seems that writing/photography goes hand and hand for many of us

Thanks for stopping by.


Shannon,
Thank you! Yes, That's my answer and I'm sticking to it! A pet monkey? You got me there.

Thanks again.

Simon C. Larter said...

Thank you for two things, good lady. First, for mentioning our contest and for your entry. Second, for mentioning Monkeybicycle's one-sentence submissions call. I surfed over there, and on the front page was a story by Gary Moshimer, who published a piece in LitNImage that is still swirling around in my gut four months later. Plus, I just happen to have a couple of 400 word one-sentence stories sitting around, waiting to be submitted places.

Keep it up, Yvonne. With that attitude, it's only a matter of time before you get that letter.

Jemi Fraser said...

I like the "editing" answer! I think even the thought of editing would scare the pants off most nonwriters!

I'd love to have all the things on your list! The thing I want most however is TIME!!!!

Yvonne said...

Simon,
Thank you for the encouraging words, and I'm glad you found the link helpful. Isn't that a great story? I just loved it....them chasing that car across the field, tumbling through the grass. Whew...a person could get breathless just reading it. Good luck with your one-sentence story. Next thing you know we'll see it up over there.

Yvonne said...

Hi Jemi,
Ah, yes, time. Without which nothing else matters.

Thanks!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

A widow's walk. Oh, that would be a grand thingt to have. Thoughtful and wonderfully written post, Yvonne.
Five things:
A Craftsman-style house
An agent
A book with my name on it
A saline swimming pool
A peach tree

Yvonne said...

Tricia,
Thank you.

I love your five things. I have a peach tree and I bet you could grow a lemon tree out there in sunny Cali. Is there really such a thing as a saline pool? I didn't know. So, it'd be like swimming in the ocean?

TK Richardson said...

Thanks for this post. It is refreshing, real, and encouraging all at the same time. And I might take your advice and enter some of those short story contests. All they can do is say no, right? And hey, it's not like I've never heard that before! LOL

Yvonne said...

TK,
Thanks! Yes you definitely should. I know you have plenty of them.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Yvonne,
Yes, there are saline pools but few and far between. They use different systems than chlorine and, of course, are more natural, less harsh on the skin and lungs.